Tag Archives: Peace Corps Relationships

Character Reflections from Kambia, Sierra Leone

In 1983, Jim and Carolyn Hitter left a notebook in the Peace Corps Rest House in Kambia, Sierra Leone, as a way to remember the work of their fellow volunteers. Scrawled on the inside cover of the faded notebook: “Dedicated to us, the PCV’s, VSO’s of Kambia. Twenty years of Volunteers have been here and left no record, no footprints…With this small beginning maybe our successors will know us by our deeds and misdeeds.” 

Once the first journal filled, other PCVs added another in 1988. Many of the entries are a bit of gossip, others are firsthand reflections and memories of their time in Sierra Leone.

Here are some entries from the two notebooks:

Dewey- N. Carolina

Econ major at UNC? Aggie [Agriculture] at Bapinga 1980-1982. Extended to fisheries winter of ’82. Lived with Pa Laurin. Seemed to get along well with farmers. Speak languages well. Mr. Generosity. Dewey gives things away!

Extremely conservative politically. 

Married Sierra Leonean, Regina Durwig, at Pt. Loko on 9 July 1983.

No; Dewey’s father came to S.L. to convince him that this was not a wise thing so Dewey’s wedding apparently turned into an “engagement party.” 

In fact, Dewey went home without Regina and apparently with an agreement that he would never come back, nor send for her.

Page from Jim Hitter’s Notebook, Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

Logan 72-74

History at Kolenten. Had a masters in World History and a BA in African History. (Orland was in his Form III Class). There was a riot at school because all the history students were getting poor grades. “Logan must go or die” was chalked on the streets. According to Orlando, “he resembled Jesus and he never laughed.

Jim Hitter, 1982-1984 Kambia
…”Lived” (in a matter of speaking) through 2-3 extensive beer droughts. Saw the price of STAR [beer] go from $.80 to $4.00.

…Never taught before this experience and never will again. In fact I expect never to work again. My background for this was some years as an engineer in the aerospace industry, VISTA (in a veterans project in Seattle) and 10 years retirement. I would have been long gone if it hadn’t been for the support/love/and good humor of Carolyn, my wife!

Martin Seviour, 
1980-1982, Sewafe/Kono
1982-1984, Kambia

I’m leaving this country tomorrow after 4 years, and it does seem a day too long! I’m a VSO. I taught secondary English in Sewafe for two years and came to Kambia to work in the KELT Primary English Project.

I dislike Kambia only slightly less than Jim Hitter and know only slightly more Temne…I would like to deny all rumours that I extended only to avoid the draft for the Falklands War. 

Hopefully, I will be the first of a long line of VSO’s using the Kambia Rest House. I would like to express my thanks to all the PCVs who have strived at all time to let me not feel inferior. Special thanks should go to Douglas whom I’ve only known for a short time but who has been a good friend (Keep the toilet clean Dough!) and to the Hitters who have put up with my verbal ramblings late into the might and have cooked wonderful meals and given me lots of encouragement and advice…”

Carolyn Hitter
1982-1984, Kambia, Primary Workshops

…The Hitters lived in the “suburbs” –on the fringe of Kambia at Kolenten. The greatest thing thaat happened in Kambia was finding Kemokoh, an excellent cook, an honest man, and the only Sierra Leonean to complete a job on time…

Jim and Carolyn, old enough to be the parents of other Kambia volunteers (47 and 45) showed their age by drinking more beer than most. All those years of practice, you know!

Jim and Carolyn Hitter, 1982. Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

[Added by another volunteer:] “Pictured above in typical form. Great people who are well worth visiting should anyone pass through Seattle.”

And in the second journal…

Bernadette
“I succeeded Chris Lavin in Bayonde village. I have enjoyed living with the Jimbra people, and tell God “tenki” everyday that I was not placed in Temne-land; Bayonde is a “seke-free zone.”

…Unlike the other Kambia PCV’s and VSO’s, I was not particularly fond of Kambia, mostly because of the rude, obnoxious, ruff bobos that hung around the rest house, whose hobby was to taunt me…

Anyway, back to Bayonde and my Peace Corps “work.” I think all of us PCV’s have realized that we are not here for the work we do; we are here as cheap P.R. for the American government. I guess that’s not so bad as long as we realize that, and also realize that we are not going to “develop” this country. As I’m sure you’ve heard a zillion PCV’s say: It’s not the work that counts so much, it’s enjoying the people and the culture where you will get the most satisfaction. At least, this has been true in my case…

I am a living example of why the Peace Corps has decided to bag the motorcycles. I broke my ankle in a Honda spill and was unnecessarily sent back to D.C. (a Salone doctor wanted to operate–yikes!) Even though an operation was unnecessary, I tell Peace Corps plenti plenti tenki for that wonderful holiday!”

Bernadette on her motorcycle in Sierra Leone. Featured in her entry in the second notebook. Jim Hitter Collection, Peace Corps Community Archives.

After the program in Sierra Leone disbanded in the ‘90s, the journals made their way to the United States. In his own notes about the journals, Jim explains: “In 1994, when rebel activity became too much, the Peace Corps was ordered out of the country. The diaries (and the large US flag that hung on the Resthouse wall) were rescued by the Catholic fathers and sent to the US.” 

Another RPCV preserved the journals until 2002, when they were ceremoniously revealed at the Friends of Sierra Leone annual meeting and 40th Peace Corps Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C.

Delwyn & Claire Ziegler in Colombia

Delwyn and Claire Ziegler

Country of Service: Colombia
Service Type: Community Development & Education
Dates in Service: 1970-1972
Keywords: Friends of Colombia, Family

Accession Date: October 12, 2017
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: One diary

Document Types

Janet and Steve Kann in the Eastern Caribbean

Country of Service: Eastern Caribbean
Place of Service: Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent
Service Type: Practical Education Development
Dates in Service: 1980-1982
Keywords: Auto-mechanic, non-matrixed spouse

Accession Date: September 6, 2016
Access: Non-commercial use only
Collection Size: 2.0 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications

“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”: Serving in the Peace Corps

Since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, over 220,000 volunteers have served in 140 different host countries across the world. Once assigned to a country, volunteers serve a variety of roles. Departments of specialization include education, development, and health. While actively working with communities, Peace Corps volunteers have to adapt to life in a new culture and environment.

Volunteer Meghan Keith-Hynes speaking to a Haitian woman near a stone circle plot.

Volunteer Meghan Keith-Hynes speaking to a Haitian woman near a stone circle plot.

Although passionate and eager to serve developing communities, Peace Corps volunteers may not necessarily have previous experience in their field of work. The sense of being “thrown into” such work can create both excitement and anxiety for new volunteers. Through their previous connections at home and their new connections abroad, Peace Corps volunteers successfully navigate their exciting and unexpected experiences.

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Albert Briggs and Anne Briggs in Malaysia

Albert Briggs
Anne Briggs

Country of Service: Malaysia
Place of Service: Penang
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1964-1966
Keywords: Library, Mathematics, Penang

Accession Date: January 7, 2016
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Programs
  • Publications

Ann Hofer Holmquist and Richard Holmquist in Nigeria

Ann Hofer Holmquist
Richard Holmquist

Country of Service: Nigeria
Place of Service: Zaria
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Nigeria, Education, Audiotapes

Accession Date: June 18, 2015
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 7 items

Document Types

  • Audiotapes (open reel 2-3”)
  • Audiotape Excerpts (9mp3s)

Interview with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Karen (Thode) DeAntoni

Last week, the Peace Corps Community Archive featured an interview with Robert Meade, a RPCV who served in Paraguay. This week we asked RPCV Karen (Thode) DeAntoni about her expereinces in Turkey. While serving in Turkey Karen met her future husband, Ed DeAntoni. Last year, we featured a post about their engagement and marriage in Turkey. Both Karen and Ed DeAntoni’s Peace Corps materials are located in the Peace Corps Community Archive.

Karen DeAntoni's Turkey IV biographical sketches booklet photograph. PCCA

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni’s Turkey IV biographical sketches booklet photograph. PCCA.

Q: What inspired you to enter the Peace Corps?

A: I had been considering joining the PC. I was just beginning my third year of teaching 9th grade English and French…and feeling restless. Then President Kennedy was assassinated, and that did it. I was so eager to do something more “worthwhile” than just teaching in a suburban school. I ordered forms immediately and by spring of 1964, I had been accepted. I requested Turkey and got my first choice.

Q: What surprised you most about your first few weeks outside the United States?

A: We had already had a month of training in Putney, VT, with the last 2 months to be in Istanbul. So I had had the culture and language training, pretty much 24/7 and “de-selection” had occurred. I knew what to expect. I think the food was the hardest part in those early weeks. I was shocked to go to breakfast at Robert College and have tea, plain yogurt, black olives, and bread waiting to start the day. I don’t think I had ever eaten lamb or eggplant or a lot of (olive) oil in my food. I had real trouble eating the early meals. (I was born/raised in South Dakota and hadn’t ventured into foreign foods.)

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni and Helen Evans in Istanbul, 1964, PCCA.

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni and Helen Evans in Istanbul, 1964, PCCA.

Q: What projects did you work on during your Peace Corps service and what challenges did you face during their completion?

A: I was assigned to teach English at Middle East Technical University, then an English-language university outside of Ankara. I was initially very disappointed because I had expected a “hardship site.” Because I had taught school before joining the PC, somehow they thought I was better equipped to teach these young (mostly) men than my peers who were fresh out of college. These METU students were not proficient in English. Most of my work was getting their grammar and written essays up to par, so they could perform better in their engineering classes. My students came from all over the Middle East–Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and of course, Turkey.

In the end, it was a great assignment. I loved teaching those kids and working with fellow Turkish teachers (all women) who were fluent in English, had spent time in the US or Britain, and accepted me as one of them. They also admired me because I lived “on the economy” and countered the “ugly American” stereotype. My roommate had a similar assignment at a medical school. Our apartment became a haven for volunteers in the field who needed some time in a city, an American toilet, a real shower, and some home-cooked food (Helen and I had mastered the market/shopping/ cooking routine by then). This was a good news/bad news experience. Turkish culture at that time believed if a single man and woman were in an apartment without a chaperone, they must be romantically involved. Helen and I promised our landlord that nothing of the sort ever went on (it didn’t), but I’m not sure he believed us. Our neighbors for sure did not.

There were two major challenges at work: First, the anti-American mood hit Turkey in the summer of 1965. I was traveling in Greece with friends (including my Volunteer husband-to-be) and helping with another PC training program in Istanbul during the 3 months. When I returned to METU, I was shocked at the militancy of my former students. The main issue was, of course, Vietnam, and I had really no explanation for why the US continued its deep involvement. It was not easy to defend. When back in the States, I would become heavily involved in the anti-war movement. It was easy to see the worldwide effect of U.S. foreign policy.

Secondly, the Turkish head of the English Dept. at METU was an extremely difficult man. He had been educated at Oxford and had an annoying air of arrogance about him. He was all about meetings where he pretended to listen to input from the teachers (both PCV’s and Turks), but then did things his own way. I don’t believe he had ever taught in a classroom and was completely ignorant of what planning went on, what needed changing, what we needed from the budget, etc. He was dismissive of Peace Corps teachers. It was even more distressful because the Turkish natives in the Dept. completely agreed with us. They were embarrassed at how we were treated, but could do nothing about it because their jobs were in jeopardy.  I became engaged to my current PC husband and we were married in January, 1966. My Turkish friends helped arrange our wedding (in the Italian Embassy chapel) and hosted our reception at a local “tennis club.” They were wonderful, and we remained friends via letters for several years!

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni, June 1965, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. PCCA.

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni, June 1965, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. PCCA.

Q: How has your Peace Corps service influenced you in your post-Peace Corps work?

A: I went on to continue teaching English for a total of 34 years.  My experiences in Turkey were never far from my duty at hand. I learned how to TEACH writing (something no college prepares prospective teachers how to do). I also learned how to run a department, how to listen, how to guide, and how to help my colleagues and interns evaluate and construct curriculum. I also coached a girls’ dance line, girls’ tennis, and cross country. Clearly, teaching–in the broadest sense of the word–was in my blood. I loved it.

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni with freinds' children, Turkey, Christmas 1964, PCCA.

Karen (Thode) DeAntoni with friends’ children, Turkey, Christmas 1964, PCCA.

Q: What advice would you give current and future Peace Corps volunteers?

A: Absorb all you can from your host country! Be patient. Laugh a lot. Try not to let negative experiences color your total experience. Master the language, if you can. If you can’t, do your best to become a part of your country and its inhabitants. If you don’t “love” them, let them love you. Don’t let your American ways be the only ways to do things. Defend what you believe about America. Don’t be afraid to agree with SOME criticisms of American foreign policy, including the military and its presence, if there is one. Stay “grounded”; make close friends with other PCV’s, for support, but don’t behave foolishly. It could come back to haunt you. And remember: this could be the most significant experience of your life!

That’s about it. I want to say that Ed and I still have a deep love for Turkey. We have been back twice, once to take our son and his wife so they could see why we loved it. We continue to cook Turkish food, use Turkish expressions in our daily conversations, and read anything we can about what is going on there. Our being wedded there and sharing the experience have been a great boon to our marriage (Note: we are coming up on our 50th wedding anniversary! We would love to celebrate it there, but January weather and expenses will keep us here with our sons, their wives, and grandchildren.)

And finally…the mailman just delivered a letter from a former student from 25 years ago who wants to reconnect. (Of course, I will!) And thanks me for being such “a wonderful teacher of life and literature.”

You can’t beat that for continual rewards…

 

 

 

 

“Weevils and Beetles”: An Amusing Peace Corps Anecdote

Brian Adler and Cynthia Elliott, a married couple, served together in the Peace Corps in Suriname (2002-2004). His extensive diary records the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer. In addition to assisting in community projects, Brian and Cynthia also found time to travel the countryside. In doing so, Peace Corp volunteers not only adapt to different and local cultures, but also to the environment as well. This amusing anecdote, taken from Brian’s diary, shows how volunteers, placed in new locations, cope with the forces of Mother Nature.

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

Harlequin Beetle in Hand, Brian Adler, American University Peace Corps Community Archive

“The bugs have gotten better and braver at night. This hasn’t pleased Cindy, She woke me up with a start the other night scared out of her wits. I think it was the Mephoquin. We both heard buzzing in the walls and at 3:30 in the morning I could care less so I quickly took to some light hearted joking by naming the insect “The Wood Weevel.”

Cindy was unimpressed. She made me get up several times to look for it, turn on the lantern, turn off the lantern because it smelled, etc. I never did get back to sleep because she would violently shake her bug netting every 20 minutes. I finally got up and told the jungle to stop it but I don’t think it listened.”

Love and Marriage in the Peace Corps

Not only did the Peace Corps experience provide opportunities to travel and develop skills, but also led to the development of romantic relationships between volunteers.  Norm Heise noted the Peace Corps’ reputation for “being the best ‘unofficial matrimonial agency’ going at the time.”  The PCCA collection includes several stories of volunteers’ dating escapades, but there are also two instances where volunteers married during their service.

August 18, 1963, St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University

Norm and Janet served as teachers at Toro Teaching Training College, in Northern Nigeria, from 1963-1965.  After meeting in training at Columbia University, Norm Heise proposed to Janet Driggs.  The two had known each other for less than a week.  The couple married in August before departing in September for their assignments in Nigeria.  As a result of their marriage, Peace Corps altered their placements to ensure the couple traveled, lived, and shared the experience together.  Their collection includes photos and stories of their work in Nigeria.

Norm and Janet Heise in Toro, Nigeria, 1963

The DeAntoni’s story is a bit different.  Both members of Turkey IV, Ed and Karen met during training and maintained contact while working in separate towns.  The two friends began a romantic relationship, in the midst of their service, after connecting at a party.  Karen wrote her parents on August 12, 1965, “I’m afraid this will come as an awful surprise, but then it’s more fun that way—last night I got engaged!”  Because of the distance and the realization her parents did not know Ed, Karen anxiously awaited their response.  Ed informed his parents by writing, “Before you start reading this, sit down, get composed, light a cigarette…In a word, it’s too good to be true.  Karen and I became engaged last night, and I’m so happy I could cry.”  Their collection of letters uniquely presents their same experiences from different points of view.

Karen’s letter to her parents announcing her engagement to Ed DeAntoni, August 12, 1965

PC Karen DeAntoni Letter 002

Karen’s letter (pg. 2), August 12, 1965

PC Karen DeAntoni Letter 003

Karen’s letter (pg. 3), August 12, 1965

Although Ed and Karen initially planned to return to the US to marry, they quickly decided to hold a wedding in Ankara, Turkey.  Their desire to travel together, avoid inconveniencing roommates, and being in love seemed sufficient enough.  The approaching marriage influenced many of the couple’s letters home—especially Karen’s—discuss wedding plans, financial needs, and concerns about family planning.

The DeAntoni’s wedding invitation, 1966

It is not surprising that living closely with other volunteers and sharing life-changing experiences established lasting bonds—both friendly and romantic.  In a letter to his parents, Ed explained, “This common experience has given us a tremendous basis for learning about each other, a common feeling for so many things, and the ground for our love to grow and flourish.”  For many volunteers, this experience of surviving a new place, establishing relationships, and sharing similar goals fostered the development of many romantic relationships.